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Ratchet and Clank Original Trilogy Retrospective Part 3

Ratchet and Clank 3: Up Your Arsenal – or just Ratchet and Clank 3 in other places – was released in 2004 on the PlayStation 2, once again one year after the game before it. The game opens with Ratchet and Clank enjoying life in the Bogon Galaxy, before revealing that Clank is now a Holovid star playing “Secret Agent Clank”, a news story plays showing Ratchet’s home planet of Veldin being invaded by Tyhrranoids under the command of Doctor Nefarious…

… Who I will now spend a paragraph gushing about, because, Nefarious is probably one of the best aspects of the game. He is over-the-top, ridiculous, delusional, psychopathic, sadistic, and can randomly pick up transmissions of a soap opera during moments of great anger. These factors alone put him into contention for being an awesome villain, add in his long-suffering robotic butler, Lawrence, to bring a deadpan angle to affairs and the interactions between these two can get downright slapstick.

Anyway, Ratchet returns to his home planet to aid the Galactic Rangers in taking the planet back, leading them to meeting the Galactic President who asks them to follow a lead on someone who knows where Captain Qwark may be. Or as it turns out, actually is Captain QWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKK!!

*Coughs* Sorry.

Once Qwark is retrieved and made to realise he is not a monkey, the adventure speeds up into tracking down where Nefarious may be and what he may be planning, with devastating consequences for the rest of the galaxy.

The bond between the two heroes remains strong, with a consistent cast of supporting characters this time around, along with a dedicated writer, the story feels like a co-ordinated effort against a much larger threat.

Weapons

A slightly reduced weapon count is featured in this instalment, going down to 20, with 5 weapons returning from the previous game (free if you have a save that owns said weapon). 14 are original to this game (with a 10% discount if you have a save from the first game) and 1 weapon returning with some tweaks and upgrades from the first game. The weapons from the second game thankfully retain most of their power, allowing them to be perfectly viable choices in any scenario.

You start the game with nothing but your wrench, though within the first few minutes of gameplay you are given two weapons to use, the Shock Cannon (a shotgun type weapon that can later be charged) and the Nitro Launcher (a standard Area of Effect weapon), with the designs once again going for a mix of conventional and unique.

From the first full planet you gain the ability to buy the Plasma Whip. Admittedly, I don’t have the most positive view of this weapon, I think it’s a bit weak in the face of early game enemies. However, give it some time and upgrades and it can become incredibly potent, especially since the whip can be thrown like your wrench for a devastating wide area attack.

Only a short while after this point does the Spitting Hydra become available for purchase. At 40,000 bolts it is a massive investment this early on, but the return is incredibly worth it. The weapon is electricity-based, requiring the player to charge each shot. As the shots charge, the weapon locks onto nearby enemies and upon releasing the fire button the shot is released, dealing massive damage to any enemies that had been locked onto and any poor sap who happened to be in the cone at the time. As the weapon upgrades it becomes more powerful and can lock onto more enemies at once.

A fact I have alluded to but not covered in detail is each game having a weapon that turns enemies into a type of animal, and the Qwack-O-Ray is the best one to show. Starting off fairly simple by just turning your enemies into harmless ducks, upgrading the weapon adds in the ducks laying exploding eggs, then going onto to making the ducks explode themselves. These upgrades culminate in the weapon allowing for an eldritch-duck-phoenix to be created, that will seek out enemies and turn them into exploding ducks.

With another game comes another RYNO. This time under the guise of the RY3NO (that’s short for “Rip Ya 3 New Ones”), initially assuming the guise of your standard supercharged rocket launcher before upgrades turn it into a more energy based weapon, before finally upgrading into the RYNOCIRATOR, which turns it into a screen-clearing monster… with admittedly poor potential for taking out bosses, which means that the crown of “turning the whole game into a cakewalk” cannot go to this iteration.

Gameplay

New to the series progression is the addition of a hub area for the game, in the form of the Starship Phoenix. Whilst you are still going through a mostly linear series of planets to advance the plot; quite often you will see yourself returning to the Phoenix to get a new gadget, further the plot there or just check in.

Once again a series of 40 collectible special bolts are found throughout the game, now titled Titanium Bolts. Keeping in tradition with them being rewarded for exploration and gadget use, they now serve a purely cosmetic purpose of purchasing skins in the Extras menu, which can be changed at any time from this menu.

A new collectible appears alongside these bolts. Trophies are a collectible that can be obtained through two means: character trophies placed in and around regular levels, and trophies earned for completing a certain goal such as maxing out your nanotech or fully upgrading all weapons. Once all trophies have been found the player can access this game’s version of the Insomniac Museum.

Skill points also return, still in a set of 30 and rewarded for completing challenges within levels. They continue to be used for cosmetic cheats.

About cheats though, there is one non-cosmetic cheat in the game. Hidden on the opening screen is the ability to access a demo for Sly Cooper 2: Band of Thieves, completing this demo provides the player with access to a cheat code (o □ o □ ↑ ↓ ← ← whilst paused, if anyone never knew this) which turns the Omniwrench into a dual bladed laser sword with greater reach.

Presentation remains consistent with the rest of the series, the game runs at 60fps and the level palettes and themes are amazing. However… I do need to break off here to talk about the levels.

In the entries before this one, levels were designed as open to exploration with multiple routes to go down, with each rewarding the player differently. With the more action-oriented direction this game took, the level designs suffered a fair bit. Gone are a good mix of platforming challenges and enemy encounters, in some levels aside from a few swingshot points you won’t be doing any platforming at all, just going through a linear corridor of enemies. To some this streamlines the game and lets them get right into it, to others (including me), this removes a core part of what the series built up.

The RPG elements introduced in the previous game are slightly expanded upon. Health still upgrades by 1 unit at a time through experience gains, but weapons can now go up multiple levels to 5, with each level now offering additional damage, ammo capacity and, for a good majority of weapons, a lock-on system.

Upgradeable armour makes a return from the sequel and sticks to 4 distinct upgrades, all of which offer increasing levels of damage reduction.

Gadget diversity from the last game has decreased, though newcomers, returning, and re-imagined gadgets fill the roster:

  • The Dynamo from the previous game is combined with the Swingshot to create the Hypershot, capable of swinging from targets and activating platforms
  • Both Charge Boots and Gravity Boots return in mechanically identical forms
  • The Holo-Guise from the first game is re-imagined as the Tyhrra-Guise; allowing the player to assume the form of a Tyhrranoid and play a rhythm minigame to communicate with Tyhrranoids
  • The Refractor is new to the game, letting players redirect lasers to activate doors and solve puzzles
  • The Warp Pad is also new but is used for two whole segments on one planet (which can be cheesed with the Charge Boots if so desired)

Finally, this game’s entry gadget, the Hacker. Keeping with the more reaction focused vision of the Infiltrator you now play a mini-game which has you absorbing green code snippets and destroying red defence programs to open doors. Once again, none of the compulsory challenges are massively difficult, and even in my research for this I learnt they have adaptive difficulty if a player is struggling. Nice!

A slight gripe with how gadgets are used in this game is that, well, they aren’t. Aside from the Hacker and Hypershot there’s very few chances to use these gadgets, the Refractor has slight combat potential, but will be used for it’s introduction segment then once or twice afterwards, the Tyhrra-Guise is used twice with the two instances being very far apart, and as mentioned the Warp Pad is used twice on the same planet and is then never revisited.

Clank levels return for the game, now with a new mechanic in the form of the Banana Guided Autonomous Monkey Device (BGAMD for short). For this gadget, you are provided with a monkey who can be used to solve puzzles and distract enemies. Just shoot a banana in the place you want the monkey to go and he will follow. Aside from this they remain the same, using Gadgebots to solve puzzles and progress.

Giant Clank also returns, but he only appears once in a non-repeatable boss fight. The boss fight itself is also admittedly disappointing, with no real stake or circumstance behind it. This may be down to it being thematically a staged fight for an episode of Secret Agent Clank, but even then, if a fight against Giant Robot Ninjas doesn’t evoke anything in a player, something must be wrong.

Finally, there are still plenty of side mechanics in the game for players to explore.

Arena combat returns from the previous game, now centralised to a single planet which has no other features aside from this arena. The usual challenges of waves of enemies, boss fights, weapon-specific and timed events are featured, but new to the game are 8 “gauntlet” levels, run-and-gun stages which have some platforming elements intermixed into the combat. The bolt rewards seem better this time around and the arena remains a great place to level weapons up.

Another way to earn bolts is by doing missions with the Galactic Rangers. These are interspersed in both the main story and on the side as optional objectives. These missions take a more objective based approach and take place on a set battlefield. Objectives can range from pushing forward to a specific point, taking control of a vehicle to defend a squad of Rangers, or eliminating enemies of a specific type.

Gathering a specific collectible in exchange for bolts makes a return, now on a single planet this time round. Unlike the levels from the previous game; this one can’t be completed in one sitting, as the Gravity Boots are required to fully explore the sewers.

Throughout the game’s normal progression, five “Captain Qwark Vid-Comics” are earned. These are short 2D side-scrolling levels that are played for both progression and earning bolts, skill points and titanium bolts. Each level has 100 Qwark tokens which will be converted to bolts upon completion, collecting all 100 earns a titanium bolt and a skill point is rewarded for completing the level in a frankly ridiculous time limit. (Haven’t done it myself, it requires the nerves of a speed-runner which I do not have)

And to culminate, probably the biggest feature added into this game, but one I do not have much experience with: multiplayer. This takes the form of standard action shooter multiplayer modes of the time such as Capture the Flag, Team & Solo Deathmatch, and Base Defence. 4 players can play on a PlayStation 2 and, back when the servers were online, up to 8 players were able to connect together to play.

Controls

For this instalment I can elaborate a fair bit on the controls, since Insomniac now provides players with three different control methods to pick from.

There’s the standard “Third Person” controls I’ve been talking about for the last two articles. Nothing massively new here aside from the camera finally being in a state where I feel good controlling it and it doesn’t get as stuck in tight spaces, such as the sewer level.

Expanded upon from the previous game is “Third Person” controls, making the game function like a standard first-person shooter. Whilst this is a fairly solid control system; it has a sort of “ascended gimmick” vibe to it, being put in both to expand on how it worked in the previous game and to provide a control system to those coming into the franchise from the now-popularised FPS games on other consoles.

Finally, we have a sort of combination of the two systems in the “Lock-Strafe” controls. This is a third person control system with a few adjustments:

  • Whilst holding a weapon, Ratchet now strafes without needing to hold L2 or R2, these buttons now being rebound for precise aiming and crouching
  • The camera moves closer to Ratchet, acting as an over-the-shoulder camera and rotating with him, rather than around him

This makes it more suited to combat sections than platforming sections, but these changes make arena combat and boss fights go so more smoothly than previous entries, to the point that it’s able to use this games sniper rifle as a weapon for regular encounters (a tactic I have used a fair bit myself)

Within Galactic Ranger missions two vehicles have been added in; the Turbo Slider and the Hovership.

The Slider appears in two levels and is used primarily as a method to get between points. To this end it has good handling and decent acceleration, there was never any point where I felt like I was veering towards an edge. Reversing is a bit clunky to use; in many cases it’s easier to stop and change trajectory before speeding off. It does have limited offensive capabilities in the form of a turret but, as someone who used it mainly as transport, I never really used it as an assault vehicle.

On the other hand, the Hovership is a perfectly capable offensive vehicle. With heavy firepower, precise aiming and incredibly tight controls the Hovership feels great for both laying waste to enemies on the ground and partaking in dogfights against Tyrrhanoid dropships.

Finishing it today and final thoughts

Despite some parts of this article reading more… negatively than I have been in past entries, I genuinely did enjoy my time playing through this game again. This game was the whole reason why I wanted to go through the franchise again and why I decided to write this series of articles. Playing in reverse-order, then writing about them in sequence, let me appreciate how much this game built on the control system and bolt economy.

Grievances with level design aside, there was enough in this game that I was hooked enough to be able to do a full playthrough in a couple of days, doing my best to sweep up any and all collectibles. I still maintain that I think 2 is the best of the trilogy, as it epitomises the perfect blend of platforming and action gameplay I see in the series, but 3 remains a perfectly solid game on its own and in comparison to the rest.

So, what happened after this? The more action oriented gameplay got expanded into Ratchet: Deadlocked before the series got a continuity restart with the “Future” line of games, and in 2016 we had both the re-imagined first game and a film to go alongside it (the latter being a topic for another day), which is the last we’ve heard of the series.

If you’ve followed each article from start to finish, thank you. I’ve joked to friends that with the amount I’ve written on these three games I’ve essentially done the word count of a dissertation, which I’m perfectly fine with. This series is one I’ve grown up with and still enjoy playing today, and I’m glad to have shared that love online.

I’ll leave off with a link to a YouTube channel, uselesspodcasts. It features videos from Mike Stout and Tony Garcia, two of the developers of these games, talking about their experiences at Insomniac, the techniques they used to get the game running on a PS2 and life as developers in general. If any of those interest you, take a look.

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